It was a time of darkness.
1999: Backstreet Boys dominated the charts; Korn played the Apollo; Jar Jar Binks. And if you wanted to ride your bike around Nashville or take a walk on a greenway, you had two options: Take your chances or get out of town, respectively.
"When we started 10 years ago," says Walk/Bike Nashville president (and Liberadio! co-host) Freddie O'Connell, "there were zero bike lanes and zero greenways."
You could say Nashville had nowhere to go but up. But that didn't mean it would—not without some conscious action, anyway. You can give at least some of the credit to Walk/Bike Nashville's small band of rebels for making our city more amenable to non-motorized travel, but there's also been a concerted effort among community-based groups like WBN and forward-thinking city and state officials. The Metropolitan Parks and Greenways Master Plan, which set out benchmarks and goals for the city, was first drafted in 2002, and later revised in 2008. Today, Nashville boasts over 100 miles of painted bike lanes and 37.25 miles of paved multiuse greenway trails citywide, with plenty more in the works.
It's not just the journey that's been improved—the destinations have gotten their share of attention, too. According to Metro director of greenways Shain Dennison, over 410 acres of greenspace have been added to the city's park system since 2002. Mayor Karl Dean, who as Candidate Dean promised to add bicycle lanes and "expand our system of parks and greenways," has made good on his word, while also increasing the Metro budget for public transportation and introducing Nashville's first hybrid bus.
So far, the greening of Nashville has remained recession-proof. "Fortunately, greenway funding has stayed at a steady pace and level with our requests based on what we are ready to build," Dennison says. And while there are a lot of factors that can affect a project—getting right of way for land with multiple owners, for instance—the proverbial ball is already rolling on an impressive list of developments in the city's greenway system. Those include work on the MetroCenter stretch of the Cumberland River Greenway, a spur trail to Morgan Park from the Cumberland River Greenway, and expanding the Richland Creek Greenway—not to mention construction on two brand new projects, the Seven Mile Creek Greenway on Edmonson Pike and Stones River Greenway.
At this point you may be scratching your head. What Greenway? Where? When a reporter posted a query about greenway usage on the Scene's Twitter account, one follower replied jokingly, "Nashville has a greenway?" (Kind of like when you mention the subway to Angelinos.) Which leads us to one current problem: How can you use something if you don't know it's there?
"Some of it's hidden," O'Connell admits. "I think we've done a good job, but one of the things we could really do in the next few years is start to highlight some of these things with better maps.... You might not even realize that there's a 15K greenway in Shelby Park if you don't get over there."
But even if public awareness has some catching up to do, it's hard to dismiss the progress Nashville has made since Britney Spears' prime. Last year, the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge connected Shelby Bottoms to Stones River Greenway, and more plans are in the works—including a "regional vision," as Dennison calls it, which includes a proposal to connect Nashville to Rutherford County via greenway. (The Army Corps of Engineers has already worked on a concept for this.)
Even if you want to stay within the city limits, your options are much improved and still improving. "Pretty soon you'll be able to ride from MetroCenter to the Two Rivers area," O'Connell says. Not bad, considering there was not a single stripe of bike lane on the ground in Nashville a decade ago.
Today there's even a three-foot rule—no, not that three-foot rule—to protect cyclists from passing cars. And from the familiar Tour-inspired bikers in logo-splashed Spandex, to the Rat Patrol's denim jacket patches and double-decker cycles, to the D.I.Y.-inspired aesthetic at Halcyon Bikes, Nashville's bike culture is not only growing but diversifying.
With all that in mind, what in the name of summer are you doing still driving that old carbon-belcher around town? You know what they say: Things go in cycles.
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